Story House by Timothy TaylorStory House by Timothy Taylor

Story House

byTimothy Taylor

Paperback | February 20, 2007

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In his first novel, Stanley Park, Taylor brought readers into the inner workings of the Vancouver culinary scene, writing evocatively about everything from divine local ingredients to kitchen politics. In Story House, he takes on the rarefied world of architectural design – with some boxing, fishing and reality TV thrown in.

Graham and Elliot Gordon are half-brothers, six months apart, the only sons of Packer Gordon, a famous architect. Graham is the natural son of Packer and his wife. Elliot is the product of Packer’s dalliance with a mistress. The boys are openly hostile towards each other, always have been, and when they reach their mid-teens, Packer decides they will settle their differences in a boxing ring. He takes them to Pogey Nealon, a retired fighter who runs a gym out of the basement of his house on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. There, after eight weeks of training, the brothers box three rounds that will change their lives forever, as their father watches it all from a distance far greater than ringside: through the lens of his Bolex camera.

Some twenty-odd years later, both Pogey and Packer are dead, and it comes to light that Pogey’s house – the scene of Graham and Elliot’s pivotal battle – was likely an early design of Packer Gordon. Now deserted, the boarded-up building is home only to decades-worth of Pogey’s papers and film reels, and a slow rot that eats away at the walls. Graham is an architect himself, gaining recognition not only for his last name but his own work; he’s recently separated from his wife Esther and at a loss for how to make things work. Elliot is an importer of counterfeit brand-name products who works out of an old hotel on Hastings, and is married to a beautiful woman named Deirdre who gave up architecture to raise their young twins. The brothers’ paths have only crossed twice in the intervening years, and for both, that was twice too many.

In spite of their differences, which have only been magnified over time, Graham and Elliot agree to cooperate in restoring the house at 55 Mary Street, with enthusiastic help from the producer of the hit reality TV show Unexpected Architecture. It’s a seemingly doomed venture, but will make for great television. And as the plans for preserving Packer Gordon’s legacy begin to come together, there’s not only a surprising amount of collaboration, but cautious optimism that they might just pull it off. Yet nobody is prepared for what actually takes place when the cameras roll.


From the Hardcover edition.
Now recognized by both reviewers and readers as one of Canada’s prose masters, Timothy Taylor took a somewhat unexpected route in establishing his writing career. After completing an economics degree at the University of Alberta and an MBA at the Queen’s School of Business, Taylor worked for four years in commercial banking, during whi...
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Title:Story HouseFormat:PaperbackDimensions:464 pages, 8.01 × 5.34 × 1 inPublished:February 20, 2007Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676977650

ISBN - 13:9780676977653

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book This is a great book that weaves together the complications of family and the omnipresence of reality TV. Taylor also has a deft touch of humour that lightens up the heavy moments.
Date published: 2016-12-20

Read from the Book

17 years before the ­beginningPogey remembered them appearing from nowhere. Ghosting into view. He remembered them like a punch he hadn’t seen coming: only later, when consciousness had ­returned.He didn’t hear the car arrive on the street above, didn’t hear the gym door open up top, or feet on the stairs. He was working target mitts with one of the neighbourhood kids. ­One-­two. ­One-­two-­hook. ­One-­two-­hook with an uppercut. Again. Gloves slapping home in the basement air. The bell marked the round. Pogey turned. And there they ­were.“Hey,” said the blond one. Chunky, with the colouring of indulgence, of a life spent on pleasure boats: light tan, ­sun-­bleached crewcut. Easy on the feet too, as if he’d been in the room before. As if he knew its dimensions and ­possibilities.Pogey crossed over to the ropes. “Lessons are five an hour. ­Drop-­in fee is a buck.”“We’re here to fight,” the kid said. “Each other.”Fourteen, fifteen years old. Not train, not spar. ­Fight.“You got a name, killer?” Pogey asked ­him.Graham ­Gordon.“And you?” Pogey said to the other. A different sort altogether, this one. Asian maybe. Lean, ­bony-­shouldered with long dark hair and hard eyes. With insolence etched in the smirk lines, in the bad posture. And yet that same quality, unhurried possession of his particular space such that Pogey found he did not dispute the ­claim.“Elliot,” Graham said. “My brother.”Which elicited a snort from the ­dark-­haired one as he dropped his gym bag and squinted around the room like a dubious matchmaker. “­Half-­brother,” he ­said.Pogey took the stairs in twos. He found the third party to this transaction leaning against the front fender of a ­late-­model Lincoln Town Car, scanning the facade of the building. A ­six-­footer. Older than Pogey expected, maybe seventy, with a faintly squandered feel about him. Houndstooth jacket, ascot, white shirt, cufflinks like Scrabble tiles: one G, one E. ­Cigarette-­stained fingers and ­all-­concealing sunglasses intended for the unforgiving light of glaciers. These lenses lowered heavily on Pogey as he emerged, affording him the special discomfort of seeing, in reflection, precisely what was under hard ­appraisal.“You’re Nealon,” the man ­said.Pogey nodded. ­Squinted.“Packer Gordon,” he said finally, lifting himself from the car and extending a hand. “I take it you’ve met my boys.”First thing Gordon wanted to know was why there were clamshells littering the front steps and sidewalk in front of the building. The detail seemed to annoy ­him.Crows, Pogey said. Crows that for reasons he couldn’t explain favoured 55 East Mary Street over all other buildings in the neighbourhood. For strutting and making a racket, yes. But also for the killing of dozens of razor clams daily, which they dropped from the eaves to shatter on the steps below. “But are we talking birds here, or about your two warriors downstairs?”They had boxing experience, apparently. The younger one, Graham, boxed intramural at some fancy boys’ school in the hills. “Elliot,” Packer Gordon volunteered, “takes a more or less ­self-­taught approach to life.”Decisive first instincts came naturally to Pogey. Still a ­flint-­hard welter in these his middle years, with 117 amateur fights behind him, he knew how to assess incoming risk. He knew about pulling the trigger. “Sorry, but I’m full up with kids,” he said. “We’re busy in the summer.”Gordon motioned him close, dropping his voice. And Pogey, leaning forward, now caught sight of himself again, this time in the car’s side mirror, the white front of his own building, where he lived, where he’d run his gym for thirty years, sweeping upward and into the blue sky behind him like a temple, serene and attendant. Taut with ­judgment.“They box,” Gordon said. “The problem is they prefer fighting.”“Everyone prefers fighting,” Pogey said, still leaning in, voice low. “It’s easier.”Which provoked a laugh. Packer Gordon liked that. “I’m an architect,” he said. “I’m aware of how much easier it is to release force than restrain it.”Pogey straightened up, blinking. He remembered losing himself in the resumption of gym noise below. Someone rang the bell to start another round. Shoes shuffled on the concrete floors. The heavy bags began to groan on their turnbuckles. The speedbag winding out. All the machinery of fight school reeling again into motion. And, missing the moment for escape cleanly, he heard himself say only, “How’d you ever hear of Nealon’s Gym?”Gordon blew past that question, on to terms, money and others. He wanted a closed gym. He wanted Pogey’s undivided attention paid to just these two. He wanted to set up a camera and film three rounds, the outcome of which would apparently settle all matters between the ­boys.“I’m not letting a couple kids in my ring I’ve never even seen before.”So they would train. So Pogey could assess them for however long he needed. So they would prove ­themselves.Now a money clip was out. Bills peeled off in a way that suggested impulsive spending, often beyond available means. And Pogey was nodding as the cash whispered into his palm, nodding until Gordon had forked over more than Pogey could have hoped to collect in two months ­running.“You’re telling me you want to rent my gym for the entire summer?”––Thursdays. Eight Thursdays. Pogey remembered they trained hard. He had them skip five rounds, do callisthenics five more, stretch, go for a jog. They didn’t pull on bag gloves until the second week, by which point he’d withheld the true business of boxing for long enough that they wanted nothing more than to curl their hands into fists, to feel canvas under the balls of their feet. All this while hardly a word of argument passed between them, no revealed schism. Only opposing energy that polarized everything within their ­fieldFrom the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. What is the enduring significance of the teenage boxing match between Graham and Elliot? Why did their father insist on it, and what did the two boys take from it into their future lives?2. In the first chapter, Pogey elaborates on the style triangle at the heart of boxing, comparing it to rock, paper, scissors: three approaches “locked in relation to one another.” Consider the tensions and balances at play in this theory and the numerous other triangles referred to in the novel, such as those at the heart of the design at 55 Mary Street, in personal relationships or the “half man half fish half bird” who visits Esther.3. What kind of a man was Packer Gordon? As an architect? As a father?4. Discuss the parallels made in the novel between the Story House at 55 Mary Street and the Haida settlements of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). For instance, why do Graham and even Elliot imagine the Story House as a longhouse, in form and/or function?5. Having children is a major topic in the novel – for Graham and Esther, who try and fail, for Elliot and Deirdre, whose lives are changed by the arrival of the twins, for Packer Gordon, who fathers two boys with different women. Discuss the importance of children in Story House – for instance, how childbirth changes people (or doesn’t), the various mothers and fathers or how inheritance (material or genetic) comes into play.6. Just as he did in his first novel, Stanley Park, Taylor brings the city of Vancouver vividly onto the page in Story House: the green-glass towers and new money of Yaletown, the natural beauty of elite Deep Cove, the crumbling stonework and tragic lives of the Downtown Eastside. Discuss Taylor’s ability to evoke a sense of place, whether the many sides of Vancouver or other locales: Seoul, Los Angeles, Haida Gwaii.7. Why did the Story House at 55 Mary Street collapse?8. Talk about the importance of filmmaking and the effect it has on various characters. What do you think Taylor is saying about “reality” TV and encapsulated human experience in this novel?9. Is there a comparison to be made between the behind-the-scenes moneymen in TV production and the mysterious Uncles of Elliot’s world?10. Do Taylor’s characters feel that they can reclaim the past by collecting or buying pieces of it, or by “preserving” a building? Discuss how Taylor treats nostalgia in this novel, whether for times long past – the heyday of Packer Gordon’s designs, the height of Haida culture, the glory years of boxing – or for things like faux-ancient carpets and knock-off Swatches.11. Why does Esther retreat to the fishing club on Haida Gwaii, twice, and then to her own small island? Why does she feel the need to catch a big fish? What is the significance of her discovering the New Auspicious?12. Considering that the Story House collapses at the end, and the Haida village of Kiusta was abandoned and left to the elements by its original inhabitants, what do you think Taylor might be saying about the impermanence of our structures, or our desire to prop up and refurbish the past?13. Twice in the novel (when the young Graham visits Haida Gwaii, and when Esther brings the brothers together to sort out their differences) characters are stricken by the realization that maybe the story houses aren’t trying to tell them anything, but are instead asking a question. What do you think that could mean?14. How do you feel about what happens to Graham and to Elliot at the end of the novel? Compare their last scenes. And why do you think Taylor ends the novel by bringing Esther and Deirdre together?15. Discuss the title of the novel, Story House. Can the novel itself be considered a sort of story house?

Editorial Reviews

“Cities reflect the souls of their inhabitants, and nothing lays claim to the soul of a city more than a novel that uses it as a character…. Timothy Taylor does it right…. [He] knows Vancouver’s arteries and bones. His portraits of that spectacular city … are as complex and well-rounded as a Tolstoy character.” —Calgary Herald “Taylor has a knack for imbuing his stories with lyric realism, unearthing beauty in the mundane and trivial…. Story House is never less than eminently readable.” —Winnipeg Free Press“A writer with chops…. Story House is a mesmerizing novel, populated by strong, complex characters and driven by a multilayered plot that is both archetypal and completely original…. Although this is a serious work, there are short bursts of brilliantly funny writing that demand to be reread.… He clearly challenged himself to write a more complex novel than Stanley Park, and he succeeds in stunning fashion.” —The Vancouver Sun "Taylor’s very good at conjuring vivid visuals, a talent played out in spades in the novel’s tragic final act. . . . Story House is a big, brainy novel. An ambitious project. . . . Taylor’s book [is] intelligently and solidly built."—The Globe and Mail"Taylor is a master of the dramatic in medas res and abrupt transition. . . .tour de force writing. . . . Taylor harrows the house of the dead in gripping fashion; he deserves all his accolades, and then some."—National Post"Story House reveals all of Taylor's hallmarks and strengths. No one writes about work with such attention to the minutiae. It's not merely getting the facts; Taylor enters the language and customs of distinct societies and reveals them with astonishing verisimilitude. He immerses readers in alien worlds. . . . Story House is a thrilling tour de force, a most impressive achievement of idea and implementation, of structure in service of function. It's architectural, really. And Timothy Taylor is one of very few writers who could have made it work so well."—Ottawa CitizenPraise for Timothy Taylor:“[Taylor is] one of the most graceful young stylists around… unflaggingly intelligent.” —Maclean’s“Taylor writes with the wonder and joy of a kid who has had his nose pressed to the candy-store window and all of a sudden finds himself inside, with one cautious eye glancing back over his shoulder.” —Georgia Straight“Taylor reminds me of Munro: an edgier, hipper version. He has the miniaturist’s eye for telling gestures and objects, and a magical ear for cryptic dialogues about ordinary things … It was said of James Joyce that he could create a character by describing the way he held an umbrella. Taylor has that talent …” —The Vancouver Sun“Timothy Taylor is a major talent who continues to make his mark on the Canadian literary scene.” —Times Colonist (Victoria)“Taylor is a fine prose craftsman.” —Andre Mayer, eye WeeklyPraise for Stanley Park:“Stanley Park is an assured debut that stands well above many first novels. Taylor is a writer of undeniable talent who has proven himself adept at both the long and short form, and whose wave will no doubt reach the shores.” —Stephen Finucan, Toronto Star“Timothy Taylor writes straight, strong, unadorned prose ... Taylor is as good as the American novelist Jim Harrison when it comes to writing about textures and tangs, colours and sensations.”—Quill & Quire Praise for Silent Cruise: “An intriguing collection of short fiction [from] a master stylist … Taylor’s use of language is exact. He has a gift for choosing exactly the right word to express an idea or an emotion, giving his writing a feeling of strength and precision. Each character rings true, enabling the reader to become engrossed in the stories. Silent Cruise is excellent writing and enjoyably hypnotic.” —The Hamilton Spectator“Taylor has an obvious gift for plots, one of the storytelling arts that is irresistibly alluring, but which has fallen somewhat into disuse among short-story writers. These are page-turners, with dramatic turns of events and ‘hidden stories’ that are revealed in surprising, trump-card endings … Taylor is blessed with a prodigious dramatic imagination … Nearly every story Taylor has published has been singled out for some prize or honour, and this first collection affirms that he is more than just lucky.” —The Globe and Mail